Longhorns survive sloppy opening against Wildcats

Tyler Horka

Head coach Karen Aston said her team has lacked the competitive energy lately that drove the Longhorns to a 16–0 record to start the season.

That energy didn’t return for the start of Texas’ home game against Kansas State on Wednesday — the Longhorns faced a 9-point deficit at the half.

But a different Texas team emerged for the second half. The Longhorns outscored the Wildcats by 16 points in the second half to take a 58-51 victory at the Frank Erwin Center.

“I thought [in] the first half we played anxious,” Aston said. “I didn’t think we started terrible, but when shots didn’t go in, we got anxious. Luckily we were able to regroup at half.”

The Wildcats continued to attack Texas to start the second half. Kansas State scored the first five points of the third quarter to open up a 32-18 lead. But the energy that Aston had been looking for arrived shortly thereafter.

The spark Texas needed came from sophomore guard Ariel Atkins. She scored eight points in the first four minutes of the third quarter.

“It made a difference to have people that could score the basketball in the second half,” Aston said. “Everybody injected energy in the second half.”

Atkins scored six points in an 8-0 Texas run that dwindled the Wildcat lead to 32-26 with 7:43 left in the third quarter.

The Longhorns kept clawing at the deficit. Senior guard Celina Rodrigo hit a three to bring Texas within one point late in the third quarter.

The Longhorns took nearly four minutes to get their first points of the fourth quarter. But Kansas State failed to take advantage. The Wildcats went nearly five minutes without a basket in the matchup’s final frame.

Texas took a 45-43 lead on senior Brady Sanders’ layup with 4:55 remaining and held that lead for the remainder of the game.

Sanders — who started 29 games last season but zero this season — had a season-high 12 points and was six-of-six from the free-throw line. Sanders said she likes being on a team with depth even if it means a decrease in playing time.

“If my name’s called, my name’s called,” Sanders said. “If it’s not, it’s not. But I’m going to give what I can. That’s the beauty of being on this team.”

The Longhorns remain in Austin to take on West Virginia on Sunday. Aston said they’ll need the energy from Wednesday’s second half from the start against the Mountaineers.

“You go through ebbs and flows in a season,” Aston said. “Tonight and this point forward, we’ll use who gives us energy.”